After travelling abroad for many years, Fred Williams returned to Australia, settling in the outskirts of Melbourne. Reacquainting himself with the local landscape, he dedicated his practice to what was in front of him. Williams set out to challenge his perception of the humble gum tree, this landscape was now somewhat unfamiliar to him, causing him to look at this once familiar setting with a refreshed perspective. Captivated by Cubist artist Georges Braque, an artist he admired while travelling in Europe, Williams began a journey of experimentation, rejecting his foundations and traditional perceptions of what Australia landscape painting was.
In Bayswater Landscape 1959, Williams’ abstraction technique flourishing, we see this through his use of line, circle and colour to portray the complexity of the bush. Using a sophisticated palette of pale blues, greens and creams, his boulder like forms and dark geometric outlines are very much reminiscent of his major work, Sherbrooke Forest 1961 which lives in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. When in discussion with the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1961, Williams commented on how odd the Australian landscape seemed to him, ‘It always worried me that there was no focal point in it, so I simply thought, well I’ll paint it and I’ll leave the focal point out’. Leaving the viewer unattached to a focal point, Bayswater Landscape 1959 allows the viewer to follow a sequence of vertical lines, drawing their eyes around the whole painting.
The year 1959 also saw the development of the influential artist group, The Antipodeans, including Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, John Perceval and John Brack whose ideas were centred around concepts of identity, the human body and the figurative image. Williams, friends with most of these members, was not invited to join, perhaps being perceived as too experimental or abstract at the time. In spite of this, once receiving notoriety in the galleries, he did eventually receive an invitation – which he declined. Another sign of his individualistic character and willingness to develop artistically without the influence of other styles emerging on the art scene during the early 1960s in Australia.
Williams successfully challenged and defied all traditional conventions of Australian landscape painting. While re-inventing the gum tree, he ultimately dedicated his career to this subject of treescapes, following his own non-conformist path to success within the Australia art scene in the 20th Century.
Fine Art Specialist